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Teaching Listening and Speaking: from Theory to Practice Jack C. Richards

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Madonna Munley

on 15 November 2011

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Transcript of Teaching Listening and Speaking: from Theory to Practice Jack C. Richards

The article examines the assumptions and practices concerning the teaching of listening and speaking skills.
There is a resurgence in the interest in the teaching of listening. Many exams now include a listening component, "acknowledging that listening skills are a core component of second language proficiency" (Richards, p.1). Listening as comprehension is the traditional way of thinking about the nature of listening. It is based on the assumption that the main function of listening in second language learning is to facilitate understanding of spoken discourse (Richards, p.3)

Characteristics of Spoken Discourse
usually instantaneous
strikes the second language learner as being very fast
usually unplanned
reflects the processes of construction such as hesitations,
reduced forms, fillers, and repeats
has a linear structure
delivered one clause at a time
is context dependent and personal
often assumes shared background knowledge
may be spoken with many different accents
(Richards, 1996, pp.3-4)
21 22 11 5+7= (cc) image by anemoneprojectors on Flickr Bottom Up Processing: The listener's lexical
and grammatical competence in
a language provides the basis for
bottom-up processing. The input is scanned
for familiar words, and grammatical knowledge is used to work out the relationship between elements of sentences. In order to understand...we break the utterance down into its components in a process called "chunking." Through grammar we find the appropriate "chunks" and the speaker helps us through "intonation and pausing" (Richards, pp. 4-5).
Top Down Processing: Refers to the use of background knowledge in understanding the meaning of a message; goes from meaning to language. Background knowledge may take several forms:
previous knowledge about the topic of discourse
situational or contextual knowledge
knowledge in the form of "schemata" or "scripts"
(Richards, 1996, p.7) (Richards, 1996, pp.5,6,9) Real world listening typically combines both bottom-up and top-down processing occurring together. “Current teaching methods entail
pre-listening, while-listening, and post-listening and contains activities that link bottom-up and top-down listening” (Field, 1998).

Buck (2001, 104) identifies two kinds of strategies in listening:
Cognitive: Mental activities related to comprehending
and storing input in working memory or long-term memory for
later retrieval
Metacognitive: Those conscious or unconscious mental
activities that perform an executive function in the management of
cognitive strategies

(Richards, 1996, pp.12-14) "The mastery of speaking skills in English is a priority for many second-language or foreign-language learners. Consequently, learners often evaluate their success in language learning as well as the effectiveness of their English course on the basis of how much they feel they have improved in their spoken language proficiency" (Richards, 1996 p.16) Head Body Body Body Body Body Body Body Body Body Body Body Body Spoken language is complicated in both first and second languages. Luoma (2004) cites the following features of spoken discourse:
• Composed of idea units (conjoined short phrases and clauses)
• May be planned (e.g., a lecture) or unplanned (e.g., a conversation)
• Employs more vague or generic words than written language
• Employs fixed phrases, fillers, and hesitation markers
• Contains slips and errors reflecting online processing
• Involves reciprocity (i.e., interactions are jointly constructed)
• Shows variation (e.g., between formal and casual speech), reflecting speaker roles, speaking purpose, and the context
(Richards, p.17)
Conversational routines
A marked feature of conversational discourse is the use of fixed expressions, or “routines,” that often have specific functions in conversation and give conversational discourse the quality of naturalness. Wardhaugh (1985:74, cited in Richards 1990) observes: “There are routines for beginnings and endings of conversations, for leading into topics, and for moving away from one topic to another. And there are routines for breaking up conversations, for leaving a party, and for dissolving a gathering.” (Richards, p.18)
Styles of speaking
"An important dimension of conversation is using a style of speaking that is appropriate to the particular circumstances. Different styles of speaking reflect the roles, age, sex, and status of participants in interactions and also reflect the expression of politeness".
(Richards, p.18) Implications for Teaching
In an oral English class a teacher must decide
1. Identify kinds of speaking skills to be addressed.
2. Identify teaching strategies to “teach.”
(Richards, p.25)
Teaching Talk as Interaction
Important aspects of talk as interaction
•difficult skill to teach
•very complex and subtle
•give feedback (or back channeling)
•provide examples
Teaching Talk as Transaction
Important aspects of talk as transaction
•more easily planned
•group activities
•information-gap activities
•role plays
•talk for sharing and obtaining information
•real-world transactions.

Teaching Talk as Performance

Jones (1996:17) comments on the strategy needed for teaching talk as performance:

•Initially needs to be prepared for and scaffolded in much the same way as written text
•Many of the teaching strategies used to make understandings of written text accessible can be applied to the formal uses of spoken language.
•Involves providing examples or models of speeches, oral presentations, stories, etc., through video or audio recordings or written examples.
•These are then analyzed, or “deconstructed,” to understand how such texts work and what their linguistic and other organizational features are.

Questions such as the following guide this process:
• What is the speaker’s purpose?
• Who is the audience?
• What kind of information does the audience
• How does the talk begin, develop, and end?
• What moves or stages are involved?
• Is any special language used?
(Richards, pp.25-30) Evaluation

For any activity we use in class we need to consider what successful completion of the activity involves.
Different speaking activities require different criteria to assess how well students carry them out. The types of criteria we use to assess a speaker’s oral performance will depend on which kind of talk we are talking about, and the kind of classroom activity we are using.

Approaches to both the teaching of listening and speaking have changed in recent years
Cognitively based view of comprehension have clarified how listening draws on different tyes of knowledge
There is a need to help learners understand and use both bottom-up and top-down processes in listening and use effective listening strategies.
Effective approaches to teaching listening distinguish between teaching and testing and provide learners with guided practice in using relevant listening skills for speicific listening purposes depending on their needs and their proficiency level
The teaching of speaking draws on the understanding of the nature of spoken language and of the characteristics of different types of spoken discouse (interactional, transactional, and performance-based).
Teachers amd materials develpers need to find strategies to help learners develp fluency, accuracy, and appropriateness of language use.
A combination of teaching methods is appropriate depending on whether the focus of an activity is accuracey, fluency, or appropriateness.
The most important question in teaching skills: How can we help learners move beyond the level of linguistic competence to achieve communicative competence?
(Richards, pp. 34-35)
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